I learn a lot about the dignity of labor and the importance of doing even a small thing really well at a place that you might think there is not much to learn about--the gas station.
Here in the great state of Oregon, it is illegal for us to pump gas on our own. Only the authorized attendant can. There are some who complete the task making it clear that they would rather be somewhere else, and then there are the few who are meticulous even in the gas pumping.
The meticulous ones are courteous, to begin with. They smile and wish me. Sometimes I catch them whistling or singing a tune as they go about the task. They make sure I understand that there is no such thing as a small job. It all depends on how we do what we do.
One such teacher of mine is even older than I am. With a pony tail that brings together the hair from his balding head. He is always upbeat. He always, always cleans the front windshield--something that the I-wish-I-were-somewhere-else attendants never, ever do.
He got the pump going, handed the credit card back to me, and grabbed a squeegee and walked to the front. He noticed a big blob of bird-dropping. He paused. He decided to clean that up first. He cleaned it like it was his own car.
He then proceeded to clean the windshield. Starting with the passenger side. Then the driver side. And then the wiper blades. He stood back to take a look. Satisfied, he walked to the pump that had meanwhile clicked off after the tank was filled.
He handed me the receipt.
I leaned over to get the receipt and was about to roll up the window. "Do you have a minute?" he asked me. And before I could answer, he said, "I can then get your rear windshield also."
"That'll be awesome" I replied.
Again, his methodical work. He gave me a thumbs-up when he was done. I yelled out a thank-you as I drove away.
Dedication to whatever work that we do is becoming increasingly rare anymore, it seems. It does not matter if it is a gas station attendant, or a university professor, or a student, or a retail clerk. I rarely witness the kind of pride in one's work that this gas station attendant always, always demonstrates.
Is it because he is from an older generation? Is he himself an outlier? I don't think filling gas is what he has been doing his whole life. He has seen the world, so to speak, I think. Or, in the case of my favorite grocery store checkout clerks, they have literally been to other parts of the world. They, too, have nothing but courtesy for the customers and dedication to their jobs.
I was at the grocery store the other day. At Wendy's lane.
"I am reading a book on Auschwitz" Wendy said.
I bet there are not many grocery stores on this planet where the checkout clerks talk about reading books and about Auschwitz.
"That's intense" I replied.
"How could those people have done what they did and then turned around and gone to church?" she remarked in a low voice as if she were mourning right there for those who suffered at the hands of those who did what they did and continued with their church visits.
I realized that as long as the world has people like that gas station attendant and Wendy, we humans will be allowed to take up space on this lonely, pale, but wonderful, blue dot that floats around in the cosmos.